4 Ways to Deal with Preschool Anger and Bullying


I went to pick up BB a couple of months ago with a scratch on his face and he told me some kid hit him! A few days before that, he started being reluctant about going to school, which is unusual since he attends a wonderland filled with tree houses and play structures and a menagerie of animals. We didn't pick this school for it NOT to be awesome to attend every weekday. Turns out, he, along with a number of the other kids, were having issues with the same kid.

I know this kid. I've seen him needle BB from time to time, purposely doing things that he knows will set BB off. Like when I say goodbye at the window, BB gets territorial and doesn't want anyone else to talk to me. This is fine for every other kid in the class because they don't care about saying goodbye to me. This kid will come up to the window and in an annoying voice I can only compare to Nelson Muntz (do people still watch the Simpsons?), will say repeatedly until BB breaks, "Bye BB's mom. BB, I'm saying 'bye' to your mommy!" BB, taught to say "No, thank you" and "Please walk away" when someone is doing something he doesn't like, is left screaming, "NO THANK YOU PLEASE WALK AWAY" in a most impolite fashion. If the kid is doing this purposeful needling in front of me, imagine what he's doing when no one is looking. 

This annoying kid has scratched my kid hard enough to draw enough blood to leave a scabby scratch and I know he's been aggressive with other kids too and the mama bear in me wants to have the kid removed from the school because he's crossed a line. But then I see BB, right there, hanging out with the kid like they're best friends and I get it. They're like frenemies and I want to reach out and tell him to not be friends who someone who has proven he will hurt him because a lifetime of experience has taught me to protect myself from friendships that are more harmful than helpful. And I see the harm because BB doesn't want to go to school anymore, he's more quick to anger (which at this age is a real feat) and started showing signs of aggression and manifesting frustrations physically, even in play with his little brother.

Then I remember that they're preschoolers, barely out of toddlerhood, and the worst thing I can do is have a kid who needs the gentle discipline of a Montessori education kicked out so he ends up at a school with a more aggressive less tolerant disciplinary approach. That might not be exactly how criminals are created but I'm not going to have all of that on my conscience. Plus, I firmly believe and try to teach my kids that we cannot control other people, we can only control how we react to others and what we do with our feelings. 

I end up having a conversation with the teachers and director of the school to keep BB and this bully kid apart along with daily check-ins on how BB is behaving because I have a plan on how to deal with his anger and bullying so he doesn't become a bully himself. 

1. Read Bedtime Books About Anger. Whenever we deal with any emotional challenge, in our house, we turn to bedtime books. The process of telling the story and sprinkling details from their own reality to get BB talking and thinking about how he can relate and apply the lessons in his own life is so effective. We really enjoyed the following titles: 

  • Hands Are Not for Hitting: Perfect for addressing behaviors that stem from anger and offers ways to talk about anger and alternatives to work out frustration.
  • Cool Down and Work Through Anger: Everything from this publishing house is quite good and this book is no exception. The back of the book includes really extension coaching for parents and teachers on dealing with anger. 
  • When I'm Feeling Angry: Addresses the fact that anger is not wrong but certain responses to anger are. A board book that is ideal for the younger reader.
  • Angry Octopus: Great for older kids, can actually be used as a distraction and guide for kids to go through muscle relaxation and breathing to calm down.

2. Give Words to Emotions. For a while, every time BB had an angry outburst or aggressive reaction, we would stop everything and calmly help BB find words to express himself and get to the root of the anger. Sometimes he was simply being triggered into being territorial because his little brother had done something  that reminded him of something the kid did at school that upset him, other times he was upset about small things that spiraled into big things as his emotions got away from him. Naming the causes of his anger helped him to calm down. Now, when he starts getting upset, we ask him, "Why are you angry?" and he stops to think and explain instead of turning into a little preschool explosive.

3. Find an Anger Management Action. We all have coping mechanisms when we're angry. Me, when I am particularly angry, I need to step away and take some deep breathes. Big triggers cause me to need to talk or write them out. People without a tried and true anger management outlet are more prone to outbursts and and destructive behavior. Kids are no different

  • Relaxation Focus: Any action that helps a child relax, from deep breaths to counting one through ten, can help take the tension out of anger. 
  • Physical Activity: From dancing, to stretching or simply some jumping jacks, shaking out anger may be as easy and getting a child's body moving and energy burned off. 
  • Move to Safe Space: A change of location, like to a garden or classroom, especially to one that evokes positive and safe feelings, can provide the perfect place for a preschoolers to reflect on their feelings in a calm manner. 
  • Talk to a Trusted Friend: Verbose littles often just need someone to be an ear and a comforting shoulder to cry on while they process their big emotions.
  • Draw or Create: A great emotion management tool used in therapy for children, often using art to get out negative feelings works best for creative kids.

4. Suggest Alternative Play. Since anger and bullying was a problem that effected multiple students, the teachers integrated some lessons into the week's lesson plan to encourage the children to play together while avoiding situations with potential conflicts. They had the kids suggest games they could play together and discussed what it means to be a friend. A few of the games they came up with were "Hot Potato," "Family," and "Duck, Duck, Goose."

Specifically for Parents: It's also important to note that children not only learn from each other but they learn from us as parents from our behavior. I have seen the parents of the kid everyone was having a problem with and the father has a very unpleasant demeanor with a short temper. Other parents noted that at the Conscious Parenting for Emotional Intelligence class offered at the school, his parents explained they are overwhelmed and short on time that sometimes bullying occurs by the older siblings to their youngest and they don't always have time to address it so he's learned to be tough as an explanation for his behavior. I can't tell them how to parent but I do believe we should to address anger and bullying by nurturing an environment of respect for everyone, from parents to children and siblings, while also having a no tolerance policy in regards to violent behavior. It's the only way we raise kids who share those values in the greater community and world.

It's takes a village, ya'll. That's the truth.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a commission on the sale. I promise I will never recommend or link to a product that I don't believe will bring you value as a member of the Swell Mommy community. 

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  1. I'm so sorry that your family is having to deal with that! It must be so hard to not intervene. I think reading books about anger is a great idea and I will definitely be keeping these in mind when my daughter is older!

    1. Hopefully your little won't have to deal with bullies. :)

  2. We will be starting preschool soon and I worry about these things. The Pea is rather head strong though so I hope she can hold her own...these are great tips and the books do help!

    1. My friend's daughter is like your Pea. She does not get picked on by BB's bully. I think she'll be fine!

  3. Both of my kids get angry really easily...but it is just at home (or more specifically when I am around). My daughter's preschool teacher said she is great at school! I have tried different techniques with each of the kids but my daughter has a hard head and can't listen when she's angry. I need to talk more about anger when she isn't angry. Maybe that will help!

    1. Such a big part of parenting is trying different methods until we get one that works. And then we do it all over with the next!

  4. Great topic! We have read "Hands Are Not for Hitting." The one with the octopus looks like a good one!